22 Sep Reconnect: The Changing Face of Therapy
For many people, the idea of accessing help through counselling or therapy may bring up skepticism and mistrust and also suggests the palaver of travelling across town for a weekly appointment in an unfamiliar room. But in today’s connected world, people are just as likely to be accessing help from their laptop during a work break, by picking up the landline after dropping the kids at school or by connecting via their smartphone while moving around in our hectic lives.
While the idea of therapy outside a clinic may take some getting used to for some, it is old hat to Torbay and Exeter-based psychologist Michael Acton-Coles who has been working this way for many years.
“I started about 15-20 years ago, when I opened up in London and started to see A-listers, people in the public eye and people in the entertainment business,” Michael revealed. “They would have to go away on location or would be tied up in meetings so working with me by telephone at that time was the only way to continue effective work – and it was effective. Now that we have Skype™ video conferencing, it has opened up even more doors.”
For those who have yet to come across it, Skype™ is what is known as a Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) service. In basic terms it is a way to make free voice and video calls over an internet connection.
“Working with people via Skype™ and telephone is just as effective and intimate as working with somebody in the same room but accessibility is much easier without you having to make the journey to a room or be restricted in the type of therapy you can have because of your location,” Michael said.
The use of new technologies is not the only way that therapy is changing in the 21st Century. Instead of being treated as a person who is broken and in need of fixing, a patient is increasingly being treated as an integral part of their environment, requiring a holistic treatment.
“That’s why I went on to train in systemic therapy which is systems, families and environments,” Michael explains. “I realised very early on in my career that I could help people in isolation in my rooms, or in the hospitals I worked in, but they would go back into their environment and they really didn’t change, stuck on their hamster wheels. Working dynamically and systemically with people means discovering how their relationships and experiences, in the various environments in which they live, impact them.”
That’s not to say that therapy in the modern age produces instant results. There is still a lot of work to be done to help people become unstuck and move on with their lives.
“Guilt and fear are the things that trap people,” Michael explains. “It’s almost like being on a hamster wheel for some people; they don’t know how to get off it. Sometimes a person needs a little bit of support to say you are entitled to step off that wheel and there are different ways you may be able to do that.”
Another conspicuous trend in counselling today is the proliferation of different types of therapy, seeming to spring up almost on a weekly basis. There is a need for an element of discretion when accessing help. Some issues that people seek therapy for require careful handling and the attention of a suitably experienced and qualified counsellor.
“Some people advertising have a diploma that took them a few weeks or under a hundred hours to achieve,” said Michael. “There are people doing a two week online course and calling themselves a counsellor or a therapist. It took me over seven years and then further training to feel competent enough to understand someone holistically. “Someone who has done seven years plus training and practice may see things that somebody over two weeks wouldn’t. Common issues I work with are Asperger’s, autism and anxiety disorders. Some patients have worked with someone who doesn’t actually know how to diagnose or how to look at things.
“Also, I have accessed people in the shamanic world that were going to help me with certain things; some of them were quite effective but some of them did a bit more damage than good at the time. I do consider myself shamanic in my belief system.
“Some people can get stuck going around and around in loops trying this therapist and that practice. If it works then great, but if it doesn’t they get trapped. Sometimes you need someone to pull you out and say,’this is obviously not working, let’s do it differently.’ This is my life experience over 20 years of people and soul work and over 30 years of my own therapy.”
Having said that, choosing a counsellor who can learn from life’s experiences and remain humble may be just as important as their academic training in achieving real results.
“The more I practice, the more I’ve been exposed to various different issues,” said Michael. “The more I see of the healing process – what works and what doesn’t – the more I realise that I know very little. The dangers in the field are when someone feels they know everything and makes mistakes. I guess I’ve developed the wisdom to have an open page, to really get to understand all the layers of a person’s issue and then to help them develop a pathway to healing.”
Accessing Skype™ Therapy
If you are interested in accessing therapy through Skype™, you will need a computer and a broadband internet connection. There are three simple steps to follow:
- Visit www.skype.com, set up a free Skype™ account and download Skype™ for free.
- Find a counsellor or therapist you are interested in, and who works in this way, and make initial contact.
- Follow the counsellor’s instructions on how to contact them using your Skype account.
This article appeared in Reconnect magazine in Autumn 2014